Making a New Year’s resolution is an optimistic way to look forward, and millions of people follow the custom. Studies have shown that fewer than 20 percent of New Year’s resolutions are followed through, and then for only a limited time. But that moment of optimism is valuable, and you should take advantage of it. What would make 2018 a truly new year, the beginning of a better future?
You can rule out resolutions, because no matter how good your intentions, it’s nearly impossible to keep up your motivation for more than a brief period. Nor will life become better by changing your bad habits, since habits mount serious resistance when faced with change and generally win in the end.
The Root of Your Dissatisfaction: Self-Judgment
To make the future better, you have to go to the root of your frustration, dissatisfaction, and the desire to get out of well-worn ruts. What lies at the root of almost everyone’s dissatisfaction? Judgment against the Self. In the optimistic moment when you resolve to lose weight, go to the gym, be nicer to people, and so on, there’s a shadow side, a hidden voice that says, “You’re not good enough.” No one likes to hear this voice, and it takes different forms depending on how your life is configured. But the standard forms of self-judgment that haunt people are not mysterious.
- You feel inferior compared to others.
- You blame yourself for failing.
- You haven’t lived up to your ideals.
- You feel guilty about something, and the guilt won’t go away.
- You are ashamed of your body.
- You hate growing older.
- You feel too insecure to assert your own truth, and so you go along with things you don’t like.
For some people, these forms of self-judgment are crippling to their self-esteem, but no one is completely free of them. If you are honestly asked to make a list of all the times you’ve failed, fallen short, let other people down, and felt disappointed in yourself, the exercise would be very depressing. But self-judgment can be overcome. Here are the steps.
1. Recognize that Self-Judgment Is Your Ego Attacking Itself
To begin, realize that the voice in your head that undermines you is the voice of deception. It is pretending to be true, sitting in judgment like a petty god, but in reality, that self-critical voice is just a fragment of your ego mind. It is the source of the problem, not the answer. Its judgments are not objective; for one thing, they are always harsh, which is not objective or true.
Self-judgment, when looked at honestly, is just the ego attacking itself for not being perfect. The ego is fooling itself by imagining that it can be perfect. Trying to be perfect only sets you up for a fall. What’s really happening is a defense mechanism. By not being perfect, you can blame yourself for not being young enough, pretty enough, smart enough, good enough, etc. These criticisms are much easier to live with than to look at the ego and say, “You’re not the answer. You’re the problem.”
Once you see that self-judgment is a way to make yourself miserable with no basis in reality, you’ve taken the essential step to stop tormenting yourself. There is no need for any self-judgment in your life. The past is the past, which means that when negative thoughts intrude, they are ghosts from a time that no longer exists.
2. Realize that Only the Present Moment Is Real
If you live in the present, you will be free of all self-judgment. The past will no longer displace your present experience of life.
This is being mindful, being awake, or simply being present. But the mind is a creature of habit. When your mind relapses into habits and conditioning, the present moment is lost. There is only a present moment if you are present. So the trick is to wake up when you notice that you aren’t really present. Recognizing you aren’t present has to occur naturally and spontaneously. A clue to waking up naturally is presented to you every morning. Lying in bed, you are unconscious while asleep. Then there’s a drowsy zone where waking and sleeping are mingled, followed by the mind recognizing that it is awake.
3. Practice Affirmations
To adapt this to everyday life, simply start noticing when you have a negative thought. As you’ve seen, negative thoughts are ghosts from the past. When such a thought crops up, use the following affirmations:
- “I am not that person.”
- “This is just the past talking.”
- “I don’t need such a thought. Please go away.”
These are effective healing thoughts. You are training the voice in your head to join the present moment instead of dwelling in the past. There are other powerful thoughts that can be introduced. When you experience present-moment awareness, pause and say to yourself:
- “This is real.”
- “I am now myself.”
- “I love and welcome this moment.”
The New Year is a symbolic moment, and you don’t have to wait for midnight on December 31 to overcome self-judgment. Any time is right, and once you begin, what awaits you is an upward arc where every day in the future will make you more real, present, awake, and self-fulfilled.
By Deepak Chopra M.D.